Writing the Experimental Report: Methods, Results, and Discussion
Written for undergraduate students and new graduate students in psychology (experimental), this handout provides information on writing in psychology and on experimental report and experimental article writing.
Contributors:Dana Lynn Driscoll, Aleksandra Kasztalska
Last Edited: 2013-03-11 09:59:00
Your method section provides a detailed overview of how you conducted your research. Because your study methods form a large part of your credibility as a researcher and writer, it is imperative that you be clear about what you did to gather information from participants in your study.
With your methods section, as with the sections above, you want to walk your readers through your study almost as if they were a participant. What happened first? What happened next?
The method section includes the following sub-sections.
I. Participants: Discuss who was enrolled in your experiment. Include major demographics that have an impact on the results of the experiment (i.e. if race is a factor, you should provide a breakdown by race). The accepted term for describing a person who participates in research studies is a participant not a subject.
II. Apparatus and materials: The apparatus is any equipment used during data collection (such as computers or eye-tracking devices). Materials include scripts, surveys, or software used for data collection (not data analysis). It is sometimes necessary to provide specific examples of materials or prompts, depending on the nature of your study.
III. Procedure: The procedure includes the step-by-step how of your experiment. The procedure should include:
- A description of the experimental design and how participants were assigned conditions.
- Identification of your independent variable(s) (IV), dependent variable(s) (DV), and control variables. Give your variables clear, meaningful names so that your readers are not confused.
- Important instructions to participants.
- A step-by-step listing in chronological order of what participants did during the experiment.
The results section is where you present the results of your research-both narrated for the readers in plain English and accompanied by statistics.
Note: Depending on the requirements or the projected length of your paper, sometimes the results are combined with the discussion section.
Continue with your story in the results section. How do your results fit with the overall story you are telling? What results are the most compelling? You want to begin your discussion by reminding your readers once again what your hypotheses were and what your overall story is. Then provide each result as it relates to that story. The most important results should go first.
Preliminary discussion: Sometimes it is necessary to provide a preliminary discussion in your results section about your participant groups. In order to convince your readers that your results are meaningful, you must first demonstrate that the conditions of the study were met. For example, if you randomly assigned subjects into groups, are these two groups comparable? You can't discuss the differences in the two groups until you establish that the two groups can be compared.
Provide information on your data analysis: Be sure to describe the analysis you did. If you are using a non-conventional analysis, you also need to provide justification for why you are doing so.
Presenting Results: Bem (2006) recommends the following pattern for presenting findings:
- Remind readers of the conceptual hypotheses or questions you are asking
- Remind readers of behaviors measured or operations performed
- Provide the answer/result in plain English
- Provide the statistic that supports your plain English answer
- Elaborate or qualify the overall conclusion if necessary
Writers new to psychology and writing with statistics often dump numbers at their readers without providing a clear narration of what those numbers mean. Please see our Writing with Statistics handout for more information on how to write with statistics.
Your discussion section is where you talk about what your results mean and where you wrap up the overall story you are telling. This is where you interpret your findings, evaluate your hypotheses or research questions, discuss unexpected results, and tie your findings to the previous literature (discussed first in your literature review). Your discussion section should move from specific to general.
Here are some tips for writing your discussion section.
- Begin by providing an interpretation of your results: what is it that you have learned from your research?
- Discuss each hypotheses or research question in more depth.
- Do not repeat what you have already said in your results—instead, focus on adding new information and broadening the perspective of your results to you reader.
- Discuss how your results compare to previous findings in the literature. If there are differences, discuss why you think these differences exist and what they could mean.
- Briefly consider your study's limitations, but do not dwell on its flaws.
- Consider also what new questions your study raises, what questions your study was not able to answer, and what avenues future research could take in this area.
Example: Here is how this works.
Briel begins her discussion section by providing a sentence about her hypotheses—what she expected to find. She immediately follows this with what she did find and then her interpretation of those findings. After discussing each of her major results, she discusses larger implications of her work and avenues for future research.
References should be in standard APA format. Please see our APA Formatting guide for specific instructions.
The results section of an APA format paper summarizes the data that was collected and the statistical analyses that were performed. The goal of this section is to report the results without any type of subjective interpretation.
Here's how to write a results section for an APA format psychology paper.
The Results Should Justify Your Claims
Report data in order to sufficiently justify your conclusions.
Since you'll be talking about your own interpretation of the results in the discussion section, you need to be sure that the information reported in the results section justifies your claims. As you write your discussion section, look back on your results section to ensure that all the data you need is there to fully support the conclusions you reach.
Don't Omit Relevant Findings
Be sure to mention all relevant information. If your hypothesis expected more statistically significant results, don't omit the findings if they failed to support your predictions.
Don't ignore negative results. Just because a result failed to support your hypothesis, it does not mean it is not important. Results that do not support your original hypothesis can be just as informative as results that do.
Even if your study did not support your hypothesis, it does not mean that the conclusions you reach are not useful.
Provide data about what you found in your results sections, then save your interpretation for what such results might mean in the discussion section. While your study might not have supported your original predictions, your finding can provide important inspiration for future explorations into a topic.
Summarize Your Results
Do not include the raw data in the results section. Remember, you are summarizing the results, not reporting them in full detail. If you choose, you can create a supplemental online archive where other researchers can access the raw data if they choose to do so.
Include Tables and Figures
Your results section should include both text and illustrations. Structure your results section around tables or figures that summarize the results of your statistical analysis. In many cases, the easiest way to accomplish this is to first create your tables and figures and then organize them in a logical way. Next, write the summary text to support your illustrative materials.
Do not include tables and figures if you are not going to talk about them in the body text of your results section.
Do not present the same data twice in your illustrative materials. If you have already presented some data in a table, do not present it again in a figure. If you have presented data in a figure, do not present it again in a table.
Report Your Statistical Findings
Always assume that your readers have a solid understanding of statistical concepts. There's no need to explain what a t-test is or how a one-way ANOVA works; just report the results.
Your responsibility is to report the results of your study, not to teach your readers how to analyze or interpret statistics.
Include Effect Sizes
The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association recommends including effect sizes in your results section so that readers can appreciate the importance of your study's findings.
More Tips for Writing a Results Section
- The results section should be written in the past tense.
- Focus on being concise and objective. You will have the opportunity to give your own interpretations of the results in the discussion section.
- Read the for more information on how to write a results section in APA format.
- Visit your library and read some journal articles that are on your topic. Pay attention to how the authors present the results of their research.
- If possible, take your paper to your school's writing lab for additional assistance.
Remember, the results section of your paper is all about simply providing the data from your study. This section is often the shortest part of your paper, and in most cases, the most clinical. Be sure not to include any subjective interpretation of the results. Simply relay the data in the most objective and straightforward way possible. You can then provide your own analysis of what these results mean in the discussion section of your paper.
American Psychological Association. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington DC: The American Psychological Association; 2010.